Soldiers from the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a military organization created last year in Iraq to defend and retake Assyrian Christian land conquered by Islamic State.
(photo credit: JNS.ORG)
Since the beginning of the year, the Iraqi governorate of Diyala, near Baghdad, which has a Sunni majority, has been witnessing severe ethnic cleansing of its Sunni citizens by Shi’ite militias backed by Iran.
Now, more than two weeks into the Shi'ite violence, tribal leaders and human rights activists in the region are demanding that the international community intervene immediately to stop the atrocities, which according to them, are as severe as the Syrian siege on Madaya.
The governorate was liberated from ISIS' hold by the Iraqi army on January 2015, but the Shi’ite militias, named the Popular Mobilization Units (al-Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) soon seized it.
In recent weeks, Diyala, and especially the town of Muqdadiyah, has joined the list of governorates captured by the PMU after being liberated from ISIS in which ethnic cleansing of Sunnis is taking place. The Shi’ite militias that regard local Sunnis as ISIS collaborators blow off steam by executing hundreds of Muqdadiyah's Sunni citizens, bombing dozens of Sunni mosques and closing many others, and taking part in coercive expulsion of Sunnis from their homes.
Media reporters covering the atrocities have also been targets of the PMU. After killing a reporter and a photographer who worked for a local news channel in Diyala, the Shi'ite militias sent threatening messages to local Iraqi media to prevent them from reporting on the events. Their efforts have already borne fruit, as several reporters in Diyala have announced their resignation.
Sunni activists in the governorate blame Iran for the atrocities, claiming that it aspires to change the demography of Diyala, which is the Iraqi governorate closest to Iran and gives the latter a direct route into Baghdad.
But it is not only Iran that is viewed as the responsible party for massacres of Sunnis in Diyala. The American administration is also blamed for doing nothing but denouncing the atrocities, while simultaneously "killing Sunnis" with its own hands in the guise of fighting ISIS.
The UN is also regarded as responsible, since it has not done anything to stop the atrocities, even though it watches the events closely since it has an office in Baghdad. Local activists have initiated a new campaign on social networks, attacking the UN, with the hashtag "Diyala is annihilated with the UN's inspection."
Even the Iraqi government does not escape blame in this story. The secretary general of the organization of Sunni preachers in Iraq blames Haider al-Abadi's government for facilitating the PMU's operations to serve the aspirations of the Iranian regime.
Suspicions regarding cooperation between the Shi'ite militias and the Iraqi government appear to be well-based, as the latter has not done anything to expel the Shi'ite forces from Diyala and replace them with its own forces, even though it is possible for it to do so.
Since al-Abadi's government is the main financier of the PMU, he can easily expel them from the governorate by threating to stop financing them, especially since they prevent any state presence in the governorate. However, the fact that al-Abadi has not done this raises suspicions that the atrocities committed serve his interests as a pro-Iran Shi'ite politician.
This situation serves ISIS well, as more and more desperate Sunnis seeking refuge from the atrocities see their government standing aside while leaving their distress unanswered. Having no other alternative, many turn to ISIS for help.
The suicide attack committed by ISIS at a café in Muqdadiyah on January 12, killing 20 people, was probably committed by the organization that paints itself as the defender of Sunnis, to avenge their blood.